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Corporal Robert Topham - Vietnam

Written by Joe Troy

Bob and I first met in 5th grade at the old Center School in down town Wrentham. We became instant friends and the friendship lasted right up to his final day in Vietnam. We joined the Marines together right out of High School. One day in the Fall of 1966 we were just hanging around kind of bored and talking about what the heck we were going to do with our lives now that we were out of High School.

One of us suggested that it might be exciting to go and fight in Vietnam together. Suddenly we sort of had a plan ! We both decided that we wanted to be something special, we talked about a Navy Seal, Green Beret etc.. The Marines came into our conversation and we both agreed that the Marines were special and definitely the way to go. Now normally such a life altering decision would require some serious thought etc. but in our case I just asked him if he really wanted to join the Marines and fight in Vietnam and he said “yeah what the heck” ! He then asked me if I really wanted to join the Marines and fight in Vietnam and I said "yeah, what the heck".... and that was it !

So next day we went to the Marine Recruiter office and told the recruiter " We both want to join the Marines but only if we can be guaranteed to go to Vietnam " I can still remember the Marine recruiters face... he looked up at us in kind of disbelief and said "No problem and by the way are there any more like you guys at home ? " He signed us up but since we were both only 17 we had to get our parents permission which they reluctantly gave us and we were on our way.

As luck would have it after boot camp when our orders came in, I got orders for Vietnam and Bob got orders for Europe. Even though it was a dream assignment, Bob fought it and put in for duty in Vietnam. It took over a year, but Bob's persistence to be a combat Marine and fight for his country in Vietnam finally paid off and he got his orders. By that time I had already finished my tour of duty and was back in the U.S.

We wrote to each other while Bob was in Vietnam and one day I got a letter from Bob telling me he had been promoted to Corporal and was assigned as squad leader. The letter really concerned me because infantry squad leaders had a very high mortality rate, so I wrote back to congratulate him on his promotion and reminded him about the dangers of being a squad leader and to keep his head down. That was the last letter I wrote to him as a few weeks later I got the horrible news from the Marine Chaplin at Camp Lejune that he had been killed.

Bob had told me and our mutual best friend, Bob Sanford, that if he didn't make it to chug a beer at his grave site. Since 1969 family, friends and fellow Marines have chugged a beer at his grave site and kept our promise to him. Next year will be the 55th anniversary of his passing and as always there will be a remembrance at his grave site and beer chugged as per his wishes.

The world lost a decent, patriotic, all American guy on Feb 22, 1969. Myself, his close friends and many that knew Bob still mourn his passing even to this day. He died doing what he wanted to do; fight for his country as a combat Marine. Semper Fi Bob.


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